How can search results from Web sites such as MADIL be made as easy to understand as possible by people with cognitive disabilities? In particular, what can sites do that contain thousands of database records?
Sample Web Site
One of these sites, DisabilityInfo.org, provides information about programs for people with disabilities living in Massachusetts. It does not yet have visitor-selectable easy- and standard versions and other accessibility features specifically for people with cognitive disabilities, but I plan to incorporate them into its next redesign.
For each program, a DisabilityInfo.org database record has:
- contact information;
- a narrative description;
- program type(s);
- service(s) provided;
- populations and age-groups served; and
- lists of agencies that provide referrals and/or licenses.
This may be an overwhelming amount of information for people with cognitive disabilities. Relevant guidelines, such as Juicy Studio’s Developing sites for users with Cognitive disabilities and learning difficulties, recommend breaking information into small chunks.
Alternatives for Reducing the Amount of Information
- Display only a program’s contact information.
- Display the contact information along with a link to the full record.
- Display the contact info with a link that leads to the program record’s information categories written in simple language. For instance:
- “I would also like to see:”
- “What kind of program this is.”
- “What this program will do for me.”
- “How old I have to be to get help from this program.”
- With each line a link, a click could present only the relevant part of the program record.
- “I would also like to see:”
- Remove from being displayed the label of any field that does not contain data.
- Replace repetitive labels, categories or information with a single instance of them.
Simplifying Textual Content
Many of DisabilityInfo.org’s records contain a narrative description, often a paragraph in length. None were written keeping in mind the plain-language manner recommended by cognitive-accessibility guidelines. Unfortunately, creating such a version for thousands of database records may be cost prohibitive. Perhaps the narrative description should not be shown at all if visitors choose to use an easy version of the Web site.
Elaborating Textual Content
DisabilityInfo.org’s database records have many agency acronyms. A flaw I plan to correct is that they are not spelled out as recommended by long-standing, general accessibility guidelines. (No acronym tags are provided.) It might be even better to link them to short, simply-written descriptions of the agencies.
As has been pointed out many times by accessibility advocates, accessibility features intended for people with disabilities make a site and its content more accessible to everyone. For instance, the only information many people want about a program is its contact information. Therefore, the alternatives described above would be beneficial across the spectrum of site visitors.
I know there are other revisions that could be made to make the textual content of the database records easier to understand. I have more in mind, which I will review in future posts. Since the INDEX team and I are in the midst of creating a new design for the DisabilityInfo.org Web site, I welcome suggestions from the accessibility community.